John Seven | Viewer's Discretion: 'I Am Not your Negro' is a tapestry woven around Baldwin's words, thoughts
'I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO' (AMAZON, HOOPLA, KANOPY) James Baldwin is less the focus of this documentary than the center of it — it's less about his life than his thoughts. Built around the idea of Baldwin's unfinished last manuscript, "Remember This House," director Raoul Peck weaves Baldwin's intentions, words, and ideas into an intense and challenging tapestry that becomes supremely rewarding by the end, as well as relevant.
With Baldwin's words voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, Peck takes Baldwin's original stated intention — a memoir and examination of history, racial struggle, and the state of the American myth through the lives and murders of Medger Evans, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, all friends of his — and uses those words to not only connect together the events of 60 years ago into a cohesive, but complicated, analysis but also tie those directly with more recent ones to illustrate what hasn't changed and how an insightful intellect like Baldwin was speaking about it so long ago.
The cascade of images and words come together in the form of a think piece more than a documentary, and the crux of what's being laid out is the idea of the acceptance of the American myth, a history that white people tell themselves that at worst forgives the unforgivable and at best highlights the nice parts of the past, obscuring the horrible things that have been done, with the idea that doing this not only absolves the crimes but provides the same opportunity for non-whites. Baldwin did not mince words when he wrote, "The story of the Negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story." Peck does an astounding job at putting that story onto the screen and creating what can only be designated as mandatory to anyone who truly cares about racial justice in our country.
'THE EDDY' (NETFLIX)
Jazz sometimes seems like a confluence of solos coming together to create a unique whole. While it can contain moments where it seems like all the players are on their own wavelengths, the point of the form is to show how individuality weaves together and in the larger vision relies on the others to fashion something beyond themselves, to shape situations and tones. "The Eddy," which focuses on a modern jazz club in Paris, parallels that dynamic in a mesmerizing way.
Written by Jack Thorne, the series follows the experience of jazz musician and club owner Elliot Udo (Andre Holland) who flees his demons as he tries to keep the club afloat. Elliot gave up performing for reasons he doesn't want to talk about, but the arrival in Paris of his teenage daughter Julie (Amandla Stenberg) forces him to stop fleeing and confront not only what he won't acknowledge, but what has resulted as a consequence.
But the club and the band that Elliot oversees also demand his attention. In the case of the club, a tragedy puts its management into chaos and flings Elliot into the middle of a situation where he tries to avoid both police and criminals to solve. In the case of the band, he has to juggle personalities and business deals, along with his personal relationship with singer Maja (Joanna Kulig) trying to get things to work.
The series is filled with music, sometimes taking over from the spoken drama to evoke thoughts and emotions that words cannot reach. And it is structured like the music itself, shifting focus on different characters from episode to episode, while always weaving the center of Elliot into the narrative, examining the ways in which emotions, thoughts and actions of different characters affect the shape of the drama. In utilizing a number of musicians to act, "The Eddy" benefits from some raw aspects, but Holland is in top form holding all the characters together, and Stenberg, in particular, is a revelation with an intense, sometimes uncomfortable, often confrontational portrayal of a young woman grasping to find herself in relation to the adults that have cast her adrift.
John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at johnseven.me.
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